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Paying off with vigilant property loss control.

Paying Off With Vigilant Property Loss Control

Risk managers, financial officers and others who protect corporate assets are constantly on the alert for potential loss or damage to these assets. They must develop and redefine strategies to fully visualize the most vulnerable areas, but remain sensitive to the dynamics of change regularly occurring in their competitive business environment. Physical features should be prioritized and authority delegated for maintenance, service and testing with an acceptable degree of credibility and assurance.

A conscientious effort should be exerted to structure a complete workable program that fully meets the intended objectives but does not overwhelm the goal. By taking a complete inventory of all obvious and "hidden" fire protection/loss prevention equipment, devices and features, the parameters of this task will begin to take shape.

As industrial properties are designed and constructed, considerable proprietary elements are included, based upon the needs and experience of the owners or eventual occupants. Additionally, as mandated by federal, state and local codes, and insurance underwriters' requirements, many other concerns are addressed. The architects, engineering consultants and contractors are aware of these requirements, but since many features are hidden by the construction itself, the ultimate occupants may not fully understand or appreciate them. However, the old cliche that "familiarity breeds contempt" can overtake the occupants' operational staff and management, if they have not taken time to learn the nuances of these features or committed to a pragmatic but well-defined program.

Check and Double Check

A case in point might be fusible-link operated fire dampers which were installed in air handling ductwork where such ducts penetrate fire walls. When complete testing is conducted after installation and occupancy, many such dampers will not operate because of bent sheet metal, improper alignment or missing parts. These ducts are usually located in spaces above suspended ceilings, underfloor areas or other "hidden" sections of a building. The importance of thorough documentation is obvious, and in the last minute rush to complete a new facility, this process can be overlooked.

Other equipment such as automatic closing fire doors should be checked to see that their fusible-link mechanisms are actually released on overhead rolling fire doors. In addition, the closing spring mechanism should be properly rewound after completion of this test. Door frame rails should be checked because bent rails can hang an important door open in a fire emergency. As plant facilities expand, fire walls often must be penetrated with new piping, ducts, electrical cable trays and conveyors. Many times these openings are cut larger than required and have not been regrouted properly to prohibit the passage of smoke and flame, thus severely reducing the cutoff effectiveness of the original design. Similar openings in masonry floors often go unnoticed or are simply ignored.

Leakage testing of fuel gas valves on major boiler/furnace installations is often neglected. Likewise, proper testing of fuel pressure switches, combustion airflow or fan motor interlock devices and excess temperature/pressure controls is often not regular, systematic or thoroughly documented. Again, this cannot always be contributed to complacency or lack of knowledge on the part of the operator, but rather a breakdown in communications of needed or perceived responsibilities. "Lip service" given to operators' efforts by supervisors and management can set the stage for malfunctions and potentially serious shutdowns and production interruptions.

As factories, warehouses, office buildings and other commercial properties age, the once adequate fire protection/loss prevention equipment ages with them. Sprinkler protection, for instance, originally installed in a warehouse on a "pipe schedule" system, may be woefully inadequate for larger present storage needs. Also, storage heights have increased substantially in recent years. In these circumstances, hydraulically designed sprinkler systems, including one or more levels of "in-rack" sprinklers for pallet racks, may be required for fire containment. Such changes may also require upgrading fire protection water supplies to meet these new challenges. Large office buildings continually require remodeling to meet tenants' specific needs. When such buildings are sprinklered, care must be exercised by owners to assure that this protection is properly revised to protect the remodeled areas before tenants reoccupy them. Production equipment in factories has become much more sophisticated through electronic data control mechanisms. Many of these systems represent sizeable investments and have become necessary to remain competitive. All loss potentials involving these systems should be seriously evaluated; high pressure hydraulic lines should be properly protected; approved non-combustible oil should be used where feasible; and adequate spare mechanical and electronic parts should be in stock or readily available.

It's important to remember that open communications flowing bilaterally between assignees and management regularly, on a frank, genuinely anticipated basis, assures effective results.

Reflection on Management

Habits and attitudes manifested during the day's activities among production line workers, warehouse/workers and office clerical staff are usually a direct reflection on management. An operation may commence with all the right program in place, but as activities increase, pressure on management often prevents them from observing the workplace with the same thoroughness as in the beginning. Trends can then be established that result in bad habits involving, among other things, the storage of combustibles and flammables and housekeeping practices. Such trends can lead to reduced diligence regarding the maintenance of fire protection/loss prevention equipment and the conscientious implementation of the programs originally designed to include each of them.

Considerable expense was allocated for the varied fire/safety features surrounding and protecting us in our workplaces. However, our shortsightedness regarding thorough knowledge and testing of these features is not a result of our complacency, ignorance or bad habits. It is a result of not raising the priority level of these silent, non-revenue producing features and programs to the same position as those which broaden the bottom line of our ledger sheets. Having an all-inclusive list of fire/safety assets, and subtle self-assurance that the local fire department, code enforcement agency or insurance inspector will follow up on these measures for us, can only result in a false sense of security.

Those who want an effective program, however, know that outside maintenance personnel who periodically visit our workplaces cannot replace an in-house employee making a regularly scheduled, conscientious and knowledgeable effort to observe problems and conditions which have the potential for serious losses. Given thorough training and backed by interested and informed management, such individuals can be invaluable in giving new life to neglected or forgotten protection devices and associated equipment.

Third party contractors that are hired to service and test fire/safety equipment should completely understand what is required of them and have a specific plan to accomplish each task. Complete, easily understood documentation with dates and authorized signatures, eliminates many errors and yields convincing results. Delegating authority to contractors with these expectations produces a higher degree of confidence for supervisors and management, while they continue to maintain the appropriate level of surveillance and control.

The more obvious protection, such as automatic sprinklers, automatic and manual fire alarm systems, supervisory signalling systems, fire pumps, emergency generators, burglary and anti-theft devices, portable fire extinguishers and inside hose systems, require a programmed degree of in-house attention as well. Plant maintenance, security and custodial personnel can be properly trained to care for these important devices and functions. These people, working in harmony with outside specialists, can provide the continuity necessary to assure risk managers and other corporate executives that their protection/loss prevention equipment and programs are receiving the appropriate level of attention. Once implemented as an integral component of a plant's operations, the cost for complete surveillance becomes a minimal concern when the benefits are fully understood and appreciated. The flip-side of this coin is to curtail such programs as part of expense reductions during economic slowdowns. Such reductions tend to become permanent practice and mitigate the efforts of employees affected by these decisions--often to the point that equivalent attention is often neglected when economic vitality returns.

William H. McIntyre is vice president/manager of property loss control for Johnson & Higgins. This article is based on his 28 years of experience as a property loss control consultant.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Risk Management Society Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:McIntyre, William H.
Publication:Risk Management
Date:Feb 1, 1989
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